Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Chang: A Drama of the Wilderness (1927)

Directed by: Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack

Starring: Kru, Chantui, Nah, Ladah, and Bimbo the Gibbon

Plot: A Siamese family struggles to survive against the wildlife of the jungle.

Thoughts: When I first watched the film, my admittedly liberal sensibilities immediately came to the fore. My initial reaction was this was an exercise in exploitation; one of those "Look how different these people are - not civilized like us" types of films that littered news reels and short films in the 1930s and 1940s. After a bit of research and a second viewing, I began to appreciate the film much much more.

You might recognize the names Cooper and Schoedsack from a little film they put together for RKO Pictures in 1933 called King Kong. The pair got their start making what were called "travel films" back in the day. "Travel films" were pretty much the Discovery Channel/Animal Planet of their time, providing a taste of exotic locales or different cultures. Before Chang, the directors put together a film called Grass, which was about nomadic farmers in Iran (then called Persia).

According to the commentary and the publicity material included in the DVD, filming Chang was grueling and often dangerous. Many of the scenes were filmed using actual wild animals, often caged and then set free to be filmed with rifles at the ready. Although the story was rather simplistic, the technical achievement was nothing short of astounding. Add in some clever editing and you have a final product that definitely would have wowed audiences and critics alike back in 1927.

Chang was only nominated for Best Artistic Quality of Production (which would be folded along with the Best Production category into the Best Motion Picture category for the next ceremony) that year. It and King Vidor's The Crowd (which will be covered Friday) both lost out to F.W. Murnau's Sunrise.

1 comment:

  1. Well, you can't beat Murnau. Not even with wild tigers apparently.

    How slowly some things evolve: The same big cat technique was used in Apocalypse Now.